Treating HIV Less Expensive Than Ignoring Disease for South African Companies, Insurance Company Physician Says
South African companies would be better off economically if they provided treatment to their HIV-positive employees than if they ignored the disease, which affects at least 11% of the country's population, Dr. Grietjie Strydom, who established the health unit of the financial services group Alexander Forbes, said Tuesday at a media seminar, Reuters reports. According to Strydom, a company with 635 employees and 11% HIV prevalence among its employees would save a total of $500 million with a treatment program that includes HIV/AIDS medications, counseling and HIV disability insurance. In addition, an HIV-positive employee receiving treatment could work "productively" for an average of seven years after diagnosis, and insurance companies would cover the disability cost of the employee's final two years of life if the package was negotiated properly, Strydom said, according to Reuters. "It's a win-win situation for everybody," she said, adding, "It is economically viable to treat a single HIV-positive employee. It costs less than to do nothing." In comparison, an untreated HIV-positive employee would cost such a company 55 additional sick days and a 25% fall in productivity in the last two years of life, as well as recruiting and training costs associated with replacing the employee, Reuters reports. Strydom said that "white-collar" companies are wrong to think that a full treatment program is unnecessary if HIV/AIDS prevalence is low among their employees; HIV would cost a company that pays high salaries and has a 3% prevalence rate as much as a company that pays low salaries and has a 30% prevalence rate, according to Strydom. South African mining companies, which are thought to have some of the highest HIV prevalence rates, have "taken the lead" in providing "comprehensive" HIV treatment programs to their employees, Reuters reports (Reuters, 9/16).
In related news, PRI's "The World" on Tuesday interviewed Jay Pryor, chair and managing director of Chevron in Nigeria, about the economic and humanitarian reasons for implementing a "business-like plan" to fight HIV/AIDS. Pryor said that Chevron "started early" to provide antiretroviral treatment for its HIV-positive pregnant employees to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission and establish human resources policies protecting the confidentiality of HIV test results and prohibiting discrimination against employees with HIV/AIDS. Pryor was recently appointed co-chair of the newly formed Nigerian Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS. He said that the goal of the coalition is to demonstrate leadership; implement policy and procedural standards across all businesses; and apply businesses' organization and implementation skills to the "real scourge" of HIV/AIDS. "We've tried to say, 'AIDS is not a competitive issue.' ... We need to look at this as an opportunity to cooperate and build bridges with government and the community," Pryor said (Werman, "The World," PRI, 9/16).
The full segment is available online in Windows Media.